As we are coming to the end of the season, there are legitimate concerns at both the top and bottom of the table. For the top, they are concerned with getting into European competitions, which would provide them with extra revenue from matches and opportunities to play elite clubs from across Europe. As for the other end, those clubs are just fighting to stay in the Premier League and cash in on the brand new TV deal the league signed.
Let’s start with the top side. The cutoff for European competition is 6th place. Currently, Manchester United is in 4th with 59 points, relatively safe at 5 points above the next team. 5th place belongs to Liverpool with 54 points, but are only a single point ahead of Southampton and Tottenham. Southampton gets the edge over Tottenham due to a massive goal differential. With 8 matches remaining, every point will count in this league race.
Manchester United isn’t completely out of the woods just yet, as they still have multiple matches against top competition. It wouldn’t take much to see them drop quickly. But, a 5 point cushion is pretty nice at this point. Liverpool might be in a bit of trouble. They had been rolling with five straight wins until Manchester United beat them at home last week, widening the gap. They will need to rebound quickly, as they have 5 remaining matches away, including Arsenal and Chelsea. They will absolutely have to get points from the mid and lower table teams to stay in the race.
Southampton has been a surprise this season, riding an early wave of success to the top of the table. Since then they have been brought back down to Earth, but are still getting results to keep them in contention for European spots. The remaining schedule isn’t too daunting, but they have 5 away matches compared to 3 at home. Upsetting the traditional powers by placing in the top 6 would be a huge achievement for this club.
The final club really vying for a European spot is Tottenham. The emergence of Harry Kane has this clubs supporters very excited about the future. Unfortunately, the club only has a +5 goal differential, which is substantially less than the other top tier clubs. They might have one of the easier remaining schedules, facing a majority of bottom-tiered clubs, while getting Manchester City at home. Knowing that a tiebreaker might hold them back, Tottenham will be sure to gain points in the last 8 games, including a critical matchup with Southampton.
Now for the other side of the coin.
There are realistically 6 squads that have a very real shot at being relegated this season. Those teams are Hull City, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Burnley, QPR, and Leicester City. Right now the 3 teams in the danger zone are Leicester City, QPR, and Burnley. All of these teams are in different places, and are taking different approaches to staying in the Premier League.
Leicester City is currently 7 points behind Sunderland, who are the last “safe” team in the table. They are 1 match behind due to Chelsea’s cup games. Unless they could pull a huge upset, we can pen them in for 19 points through 30 matches. On a positive note, they have a relatively manageable remaining schedule, including multiple matches against fellow bottom dwellers that could really turn the tide.
The next team up is QPR. They have 22 points, leaving them 4 out of the safe zone. It only gets worse when you look at their remaining schedule. They have 3 matches against teams in the top 7, and only 2 against teams fighting relegation. They would have to go on a tear to avoid being demoted to the Championship.
Burnley is the team in the worst relegation spot possible, the last team to be relegated. They sit 1 point back from Sunderland, and 3 back from Aston Villa and Hull City. Of the 8 matches remaining, they have 4 at home. If they can sneak some points like they did against Manchester City a few weeks ago, they might just live to see the Premier League next season.
Sunderland is just on the right side of the fence in 17th place. The problem is that they have gotten just 3 points from their previous 7 matches. The club was hoping that the Jozy Altidore-Jermain Defoe swap would help save them, but Defoe has not been the savior they had been hoping. They will have to get some points in upcoming matches, or they might see Burnley pass them up. They have teams from all over the table remaining, meaning the club must raise their game.
The next two teams are tied with 28 points apiece, Aston Villa and Hull City. Aston Villa has gotten a noticeable boost from new manager Tim Sherwood, who has lifted them from the relegation zone. Brad Guzan has been solid all year, despite being the lowest goalscoring club in the Premier League. Hull City is pretty much doing what we all expected of them, hovering near the bottom of the table while basically being invisible. Aston Villa have a relatively light schedule remaining, and should remain in the Premier League if they take care of business against fellow relegation battling squads. Hull, on the other hand, are about to go through a gauntlet. They are hoping that they have built up enough points to hold off any late charges from relegation teams.
On the top side, I really don’t see anyone in the top 4 dropping to 5th. I think Liverpool takes 5th by a comfortable margin. I think the head-to-head matchup between Tottenham and Southampton will be huge, but the injury to Fraser Forster will spell ultimate doom for Southampton’s European dream. Tottenham 6th, Southampton 7th.
At the bottom, I see Aston Villa continuing this positive trend and will be well above the relegation line. I have Hull City surviving, but not by very much. A 3-point cushion can only carry you so far. I think Leicester City gets a few points to pass QPR, but both finish in the bottom 2. For the final spot I think a win versus Leicester will be the difference for Burnley to pass Sunderland and survive to next season. So: 15th Aston Villa, 16th Hull City, 17th Burnley, and relegated: 18th Sunderland, 19th Leicester City, 20th QPR.